How to Practice Healthy Distraction When Emotions Get Too Intense

By Jackie Chavez, MA


"You can't control the sea but you can learn to ride the waves."

We love to share some of the best resources we use with our clients. According to Dialectival Behavior Therapy (DBT), distraction can be useful when the emotional pain threatens to become overwhelming, and when problems can't be solved immediately.


The DBT distress tolerance skill, A.C.C.E.P.T.S, is a great example that can help teach us healthy distractions as we wait for the intensity of our emotions to subside.


It's important to remember not to use this skills as a routine method to avoid emotions any time you feel them. Rather, it's a special skill for times when emotions feel particularly strong and/or can't be addressed in the moment.


Activities

Engage in activities that require thought and concentration. This could be a hobby, a project, work, or school.


Contributing

Focus on someone or something other than yourself. You can volunteer, do a good deed, or do anything else that will contribute to a cause or person.


Comparison

Look at your situation in comparison to something worse. Remember a time you were in more pain or when someone else was going through something more difficult.


Emotions

Do something that will create a competing emotion. Feelign sad? Watch a funny movie. Feeling nervous? Listen to soothing music.


Pushing Away

Do away with negative thoughts by pushing them out of your mind. Imagine writing your problem on a piece of paper, crumbling it up, and throwing it away. Refuse to think about the situation until a better time.


Thoughts

When your emotions take over, try to focus on your thoughts. Count to 10, recite a poem in your head, or read a book.


Sensations

Find safe physical sensations to distract you from intense negative emotions. Wear a rubber band and snap it on your wrist, hold an ice cube in your hand, or eat something sour like a lime.


We hope you find this skill helpful in your mental health journey! As always, if you find yourself struggling to manage intense emotions that you're feeling, don't hesitate to reach out to us or another mental health professional for support.